Circle of Swords is located in the UK, in the heart of Worcestershire Sauce City (Worcester). It opened its doors in October 2016, and the concept was always to bring the best of modern tattooing with traditional values. Meet Loz, Katie, Piers and Thomas!
Loz and Katie, you opened the studio in 2016: where did the idea come from?
We wanted something that is truly built to last and that’s why we poured our souls into building the place over the seven or so months it took to refit, it was a rundown sandwich shop before and there as a lot of work to do to. We did the work ourselves and had many a late night. We did have a fair amount of help from some great people, specific shout out to Adam Thomas, our friend who also happened it be a very good joiner and carpenter.
We decided to open our own studio when a chronic condition that Loz has had since he was a teenager began to worsen. It started to look as though Loz may have to either have to reduce his hours significantly, or maybe stop tattooing all together. Having our own business would provide something of a safety net for if Loz’s health did degrade further. At this time, Katie had also been made redundant from her previous job, so the timing was just right to make a bold move. However, through a significant diet change and exercise Loz’s health has improved drastically.
Where does the name of the studio come from?
We took our name from the Arthurian legend of the round table and the image of the swords being placed upon it. We feel that, like Camelot, tattooing is something that sould be protected and defended. We live inside a magical industry and we, as artists, are responsible for it.
The sword represents a duty, an oath, but it is a privilege to carry one.
In life and business there are a lot of easy routes, quick bucks to be made and it’s very easy to move on. At Circle of Swords we strive to take the path of right, even if sometimes it may be a little slower and sometimes more difficult. It’s just Good Honest Tattooing at the end of the day, and that’s what we stand for.
What about the team?
Piers was the first to join the team, and most recently came Thomas, then Maisie and Sarah. We’re all very close and have quite a familial relationship with the ups and downs that any family has. Prior to this year’s stresses we would often be found eating out together, or hanging in the shop after hours. Blossom, our dog, is the real boss around here though and most people really just come to see her. Most days are pretty chilled out at the shop, the gang are all in charge of their own bookings and clients so everything tends to go smoothly. Worcester has got some great food options for lunch and the Deliveroo riders are on first name terms with Katie.
What’s the tattoo scene like in Worcester?
There are some really good tattooists in Worcester, like any community there are people you get on with, some you don’t and some you have just never had the pleasure to meet. We have people doing sick trad work, some amazing black and grey and even some stuff that we’re too old to name. I think that as Worcester is a relatively small city, everyone tends to get on and we have collaborated with other studios in the past for flash days. Over the past few years, Worcester’s student population has exploded which has shifted the direction of tattoos in the area to more one-shot tattoos where as tradionally we’d mostly do larger scale work.
Worcester is a cool city though, growing and developing all the time.
It seems to have gotten pretty trendy these past few years and that’s all down to the influx of thriving independents setting up, we think that’s pretty cool.
How would you describe the shop, aesthetically?
Aesthetically, Circle of Swords has quite the dichotomy. On the ground floor we have a very cosy and welcoming environment with couches, soft furnishings, plants and lots of objet d’arte inhabiting all of the nooks and crevices, guilded with paintings from artists and friends. Downstairs in the studio we have clear lighting, bold contrasts and hard edges where we’ve carried the character through but hardened her with the sterility required to crush those pesky germs.
Any plans for the future?
We have big plans for 2021, this year we were planning to do a few more conventions, including The Big North Show and Bristol Tattoo Convention, and we’re looking forward to continuing that into the new year, COVID allowing of course. We’re currently converting a portion of the studio into additional space which will provide new opportunities for us and any potential new artists for the very near future.
If you’re reading this and are looking for a change, hit us up!
We’d also love to be able to put on more gigs in the studio, we’d been doing this regularly since the day we opened and we’d really like to do more when the world is back to normal, basement shows are very intimate, loud and a lot of fun. We’re always open to having guest artists come and have a few guys who have been more than once, including Hannah Westcott, Kiah O’Rourke and Chris Collins, so we can’t be too unbearable to be around. There’s a lot of uncertainty about how we’re going to be operating in 2021, we’re at the mercy of Coronavirus, but we’d love to get more guest artists in to crank out some rad tats on the people of Worcester.
Let’s meet the artists!
My name is Piers Lee and I’ve been involved in tattooing for almost a decade. My style is based closely around traditional Japanese tattooing but with a modern European twist. I look a lot at old Ukiyo-e prints for reference so that I am more easily able to achieve that eastern look in the subject matter of my work whilst allowing my own personality to shine forth in the backgrounds, especially when dealing with larger pieces which are my forté.
To sum up what tattooing means for me I’d like to quote Felix Leu ‘Tattooing is another word for freedom’. I think that sums up one of my favorite aspects of the artform from both sides of the needle. The freedom to do whatever you see fit with your body as arguably the only thing that is ever truly yours and the freedom I’m so lucky to receive from my customers in creating tattoos for them to wear.
In addition to this I love the intimacy of the profession having been fortunate enough to form long lasting friendships with many of my customers and colleagues alike.
I’m Thomas, I’m 31 from Worcester. I was brought up in a walk-in street shop so have always done every style of tattooing; I have always really loved traditional and so focus on that more than any other style. I also paint and draw in this style in my spare time. I think that I have learnt a lot about tattooing through doing a little bit of everything and believe this has resulted in becoming a better tattooer. I would like to continue to work in this way and start some larger scale traditional style tattoos.
I learnt how to tattoo in Worcester and started my apprenticeship in 2013, it was with a small team that individually had 20-30 years of experience in the industry. It was very interesting learning in this environment, it was old-school, family oriented and had little involvement with social media. This meant that the work was predominantly done through regulars and the reputation was more word of mouth. I was lucky enough to move to Circle of Swords in 2018, it is a great team here, we all have different backgrounds, work in different ways and styles which I have found to have really helped expand my tattooing understanding and knowledge. The shop has a strong family vibe in and out of work which I really appreciate as well. I think that the shop has a really good work ethic and a good attitude within the industry.
Being largely influenced by traditional tattooing I find a lot of inspiration from looking at old books, flash, other tattooers and there is a good amount of ever growing tattoo history being put on the internet as well. I am also exposed to a large amount of information from the people I work around which is always helpful and exciting.
A normal day at the shop involves getting to work around 8, prepping for the day. We open at 10 so customers would arrive then we get to work. The shop has a pretty relaxed atmosphere and everyone manages their own diary so people are coming and going throughout the day. As I do a lot of different styles I can have anywhere between 1-5 customers a day, everyday is different which is nice.
I have a few back pieces ongoing and have found the consistency of doing this type of work and seeing it grow has been really enjoyable. I would like to do more large-scale work in the future, finding a client committed to a body suit is the dream I think for a lot of tattooers.
I like to tattoo in a bold style, it’s not really traditional, nor is it neo-trad or new school. I really like to tattoo skulls, roses and sci-fi babes. Give me anything fantasy and I’ll be happy. My style has certainly evolved over the years. I started before the concept of social media so I had to do all styles and do them better than the guy down the road. Now the internet rewards specificity and the competition is slightly broader with it being all of the worlds greatest tattoo artists, lol. I’m going to keep pushing my style and bring in even more of my outside influences such as Jon Blanche, Geiger and Caravaggio.
I guess, like a lot of people my age, it all started with art college and punk rock music. There was a bigger boy there who was dating an artist at one of the local studios, Third Millennium, back when tattoo studios were intimidating shops on the peripheries of society. I went to that studio as a doe-eyed 16 year old with a tiny mohawk above a head full of dreams.
Everyone there was super nice and gave me lots of advice and I didn’t leave until the studio closed down literally a week or two before my eighteenth birthday.
I was gutted when it closed down but I didn’t let that stop me, I just followed one of the artists to Tattoo Addiction in Newport, South Wales, and sat in that studio until I’d made enough tea and coffee and annoyed the owner, Joey, enough to teach me to tattoo just to shut me up.
I tattooed in Newport for seven or so years until, following a break-up, I did what a lot of people might and headed home to Worcester. A couple of years later, a chronic condition I’d had as a teenager was beginning to worsen, so after working in a couple of studios, Katie (my soon to be wife) and I decided to open Circle of Swords as a way of taking some control over the very undeniable fact that I may not be able to tattoo for much longer. Thankfully, with a big diet change, I’m now able to manage the condition and I feel better than ever.
I get a lot of inspiration for my work from my hobbies. I love playing Warhammer 40K, painting and converting the miniatures. For me, it’s great to have a creative process that can’t be monetized in anyway.
When I’m drawing, there’s always the thought of “will this impress strangers on the internet?”, “will someone want this as a tattoo?”, or “should I make prints of this?”. When I’m painting my mini rusty, skull covered tank, I know that’s just for me. For about twenty years, Sunday nights have been Dungeons and Dragons night. We don’t necessarily always play D&D, in fact we’re the hipsters that usually avoid it and play more obscure games like L5R, Coriolis and WFRP, although the real hipster gamers are gonna roll their eyes and say they’re still mainstream games haha.
When I was a kid I only listened to punk rock and punk rock adjacent music, I was pretty narrow minded then but if it wasn’t for that music I might not have been as exposed to tattooing as I was. I’d always seen tattoos on people like bus drivers, my mum and the guys outside the bookies, but punk introduced me to people having lots of tattoos, like sleeves, hands, necks and all sorts. Now I’m older, I have a broader taste in music and a much higher level of tolerance, I’m still not into pop music though. I guess nowadays, my favourite bands are Audible and Podcasts.